With all eyes on the quarterback battle between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire, new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford has a lot on his plate this spring. Still a newcomer to South Bend, Sanford’s not only got to get to know the quarterbacks in his meeting room, but also help decide who will be in charge of piloting the Irish offense.
Joining Brian Kelly and Mike Denbrock in a still-evolving org chart atop the offense, Sanford is tasked with coaching up the quarterbacks this spring, all while evaluating their performances.
And just months after the 2014 season and offensive efficiency nosedived as Golson’s turnovers sky-rocketed, the Irish coaching staff is going to great efforts to quantify every rep taking this spring, all part of an objective evaluation of the most important position on the roster.
Asked about that process on Wednesday, Sanford shed a little light on not just how the spring competition has gone, but how it was being evaluated.
“What we’re doing is quantifying it as much as we can,” Sanford said about the quarterback battle. “Statically, we’re getting graded on every rep and we want those guys to feel like there’s accountability for every rep that they take.
“They’ve done a good job of understanding that and I think we’ve laid out a very clear picture of what we’re trying to get done at the quarterback position but also giving them some feedback about what they’re doing and how they stack up in terms of their quantifiable data that we can give back to them.”
Put simply, every snap matters. And the film is always watching.
Whether it’s seven-on-seven or ones-versus-ones, every rep taken by a quarterback is counted. Not just interceptions and touchdowns, but catches, drops, missed reads, graded, tabulated and evaluated by the coaching staff.
Even situational IQ is scored—with Sanford and the Irish coaches trying to engrain into a position that was doomed by turnovers that every single decision and snap is critically important.
“We’re breaking down all of our concepts and how each quarterback is operating within each concept,” Sanford explained. “And then beyond that, I’m basically quantifying, ‘Did you do your job on this play, yes or no?’ ‘Did you get the job done?’ And if they are, it’s a plus. If they don’t, it’s a minus. And then we give them notes about exactly what corrections could be made.”
Sanford’s utilized this process before, both last season at Boise State and before that at Stanford. It helped add some objectivity to a four-headed running back battle with the Cardinal, and put an added value on practice reps, which led to carries on Saturdays.
As Kelly stated before offseason workouts commenced, the theme of spring practice would be competition. The quarterback battle—while largely staying out of the media this spring—will be one that defines the season.
It’ll also be one of the first position battles that Sanford has presided over. Between Andrew Luck and Kevin Hogan at Stanford and fifth-year quarterback Grant Hedrick at Boise State, Sanford thinks the competition has energized the quarterback position group.
“I’ve always been of the accord that I absolutely love when there’s competition. I think competition always is going to breed the betterment of each individual player in that position room,” Sanford said.
While talking up the progress of redshirt freshman DeShone Kizer, Sanford mostly praised his two top contenders. For those wondering if Golson has one foot out the door, Sanford praised the fifth-year senior’s “buy in.” He also raved about Zaire’s athleticism, good enough to play multiple positions.
But after watching the Irish offense fall apart as Golson struggled to keep mistakes from compounding, the analytical approach this spring will take away any mystery. That should go a long way towards clarifying the situation for both players, and ultimately a team and offensive unit that’s looking to the quarterback position to lead the team.
“I think [the evaluation process] helps them in their progression but it also helps them understand that we’re not going to make an arbitrary decision about who’s the starter,” Sanford said. “We’re going to work through the process of deciding that.”